Live Like A Champ

Life is hard. Everyone knows that. Everyone knows they’re going to face life. The test of one’s true character though, is how they  deal with that adversity. Some people become depressed, some people struggle through it, and then there’s Champ Pederson (‘06).

Champ was born on October 2nd, 1987 at Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto, California. If you were the nurse introducing him to the world, you wouldn’t be able to tell he was any different from the baby down the hall, but he was. Champ was born with Down syndrome.

His family knew of his disability, and so did Champ, but he didn’t, and still doesn’t, care. He lives his life to the fullest and he does it with a smile stretched from ear to ear. This same smile would be reflected on the faces of his three younger siblings: Tyger (‘08), Joc (‘10), and Jacey Pederson (‘16).

Down syndrome occurs when a child is born with an abnormality on the 21st chromosome, which is why the medical term for the disease is Trisomy 21. A child with Down syndrome often experiences delayed development, a distinct facial appearance which is typically a bit wider than the average human, and learning disabilities. Sometimes, individuals with Down syndrome need lifelong care, but Champ was, and is, so vastly different.

Champ doesn’t hide his disability, he instead conquers it and doesn’t let it control his life. At the age of 29, Champ is as content as they come.

“Down syndrome — it is not a disease. It doesn’t hold me back, but it is my disability and I know what my disability is. I just try even more. Some people say words about it. Words that are hateful. There is a word, called the r-word, and if anyone ever says that to us, it is really hateful. For some people that don’t know about Down syndrome, it’s about 21 chromosomes — we have an extra chromosome. That extra chromosome makes us special because we touch a lot of people’s hearts. It’s also how we talk to people too,” Champ said in an interview with his brother that made it onto The Players’ Tribune.

Both Champ and the rest of his family don’t care that Champ was born with the disease.

“It’s kind of complicated and hard at times. For me, without having a disability I don’t know what I can do. I wouldn’t know where my strengths and weaknesses are,” Champ said when asked if he would want to live without his disability.

Champ’s younger brother, Joc Pederson, an MLB all star, often has people tell him how sorry they are that Champ has Down syndrome, but Joc doesn’t feel sorry at all.

“Really? No, it’s a blessing, and I wouldn’t be the person I am without him. There is nothing to be sorry about. I am extremely lucky,” Joc said when responding to people talking about his brother’s disease.

Above all, Champ is happy with his life, and has a plethora of friends and family who can attest to that. Countless professional sport stars enjoy hanging out with him as well.

“Honestly, I think you might have more players’ numbers than me,” Joc said in the same article with The Players’ Tribune.

Champ is a positive person to have around, and nearly everyone he meets can attest to that. He brings an unparalleled energy and happiness everywhere he goes, whether it’s to work or if it’s into the Los Angeles Dodgers’ locker room.

“It’s like you bring this joy out of people. There are superstar players who go out of their way just to see you,” Joc said, again in the same article from The Players’ Tribune.

Champ doesn’t despise any of the attention he receives, but instead embraces and owns it. When his brother, Joc, was being honored at the Santa Clara Hot Stove Banquet, Champ got up and spoke to the crowd of over 500 people. He addressed the whole audience and talked about baseball’s value and the importance of being close with friends and family. He was warmly greeted after his speech with the roar of an applause from the audience.

“He stole the show,” said Tyger Pederson, Champ’s younger brother. “People can feel his emotions — they’re drawn to him. Almost every time he speaks, people are cheering or crying.”

Champ is the oldest of four children. Jacey, his younger sister, graduated from Paly in 2016 and received a scholarship to play soccer at UCLA. His two younger brothers, Joc and Tyger, have both played for the Los Angeles Dodgers, the same team their dad, Stu Pederson, played for during his MLB career as well. Joc was named an All-Star in 2015 and beat future Hall of Famer, Albert Pujols in the Home Run Derby. What many people don’t know, however, is how similar Albert Pujols and Joc Pederson are.

Albert Pujols, like Joc, also has a family member with Down syndrome. His daughter, Isabella Pujols, has Down syndrome. As a result of his daughter’s disabiilty, Pujols started The Pujols Foundation, which benefits children with Down syndrome and similar diseases.

Albert Pujols and Joc Pederson met for the first time while at a screening for a movie called “When Hope Grows,” a movie about baseball and down syndrome. When Champ first met Pujols, he was ecstatic, and he screamed about Pujols being his favorite player, despite his brother, Joc, being in earshot. Champ begged for a jersey, and Pujols happily obliged to his request, despite his superstar status.

Later that year, Joc and Pujols encountered each other once more, this time on one of the biggest sports stages of the year: The Home Run Derby. Champ walked out with his younger brother, Joc on his way to greet Pujols. What followed would be talked about around the league for months to come. Champ and Pujols embraced one another with a hug, but rather than a normal hug, Pujols’ 6 foot 3, 210 pound frame, picked Champ up and gave him a massive bear hug. Commentators and baseball fans alike felt a warm feeling within, it was the kind of moment that brings everyone in the sports community together.

“It was such a great moment that, no matter whether we were at the derby or on TV, I would have had. I know how important these times are to Champ and people like him,” Pujols said after the touching moment with Champ.

To this day, Pujols continues to play golf with Champ and other children with Down syndrome.

Outside of what one might call a personal lifestyle, Champ maintains a busy schedule professional life that includes a job at the Apple Store in downtown Palo Alto. Champ helps customers with their products and also helps with new purchases. He often talks about how he’s not allowed to give insider information on new products that Apple is producing. Along with his job at Apple, Champ also works for the Peninsula Creamery in downtown Palo Alto.

“I go to work for Apple and that’s my everyday job instead of going to a daycare,” Champ stated proudly. “I’ve been there since 2007. I’ve been working for the creamery too.”

Champ also does not let his disability hold him back from doing his favorite activities. He makes sure that like everyone in his family, he stays in top athletic shape, no matter the exercise he’s doing.

“I’m still a swimmer,” Champ said with confidence. “I really like biking. I like going on walks and I like to be me.”

Because Champ has grown up in an athletic family, sports have always played a major role in his life. Champ embraced his athletic potential by trying, and excelling, in both swimming and golf. He even qualified to compete in the Special Olympics, and ended up doing extremely well.

“I was in the 100, 200, and the 500 freestyle. I took first, second, and third,” Champ boasted on his athletic achievements.

Being an athlete in the Special Olympics isn’t the only impressive and inspiring aspect about Champ. While he is loved by many, he also has faced his share of trials and tribulations throughout his life. Champ knows all the hardships that come with being disabled, including being made fun of by his peers. Champ overcame these obstacles, and turned the negativity into motivation to not only change people’s assumptions about himself, but also to change the assumptions about people today who struggle with having a disability. Despite the negativity and criticism Champ has occasionally faced in his life, he has always stood up against the ridicule and taken the higher road.

“He has always been one of my biggest supporters and I know I can always go to him to cheer me up. He has taught me how important it is to love everyone, no matter their differences or difficulties in life, we’re all human,” Champ’s younger sister, Jacey, said on some of the values he has instilled in her.

Champ, along with his mother, created the “Live Like a Champ” campaign which has taken the country by storm. This campaign was created to raise awareness and understanding for people living with disabilities. Many athletes and average citizens have merchandise associated with the foundation, including many students at Paly. His merchandise focuses on his motto “Live Like A Champ” and has helped to raise awareness for his disability and ones like it.

“My mom and I created the ‘Live Like a Champ’ campaign because my mom wanted to do something with me and she’s a part of my life. She’s my biggest advocate,” Champ said with a sense of pride.

Champ’s family has played a major role on keeping his positive outlook on life, and he has continued to rub off and do the same on them. Champ’s positive attitude and never-stop-smiling demeanor influences all those around him to be happy too. His younger sister, Jacey, has been influenced her entire life by his encouraging and supportive attitude.

“Champ has been a huge influence on me growing up. He taught me to live life as he does, with a smile and not sweating the small stuff,” Jacey said about her big brother. “Champ has been the glue of our family.”

One of Champ’s greatest accomplishments has been his involvement as a role model in the Best Buddies program. Best Buddies is an international non-profit organization founded in 1989 at Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. This organization was created to help eliminate stereotypes and break the isolation of people living with intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD). There are opportunities for anyone to take action by donating, volunteering, buying apparel, and more to help raise awareness.

There are Best Buddies programs in middle schools, high schools, and colleges all over the nation. Champ was one of the first members of the Best Buddies program at Paly, and believes it is something that has left a mark on who he is today.

He is currently an ambassador for the club, and his responsibilities reach beyond Paly. Champ’s responsibilities as an ambassador allow him to spread his story, and stories like it, across the nation. As an ambassador, he travels to various Best Buddy chapters (such as the one at Paly) and gives motivational speeches to the members. Many people with disabilities aren’t permitted to speak, but Champ’s eloquent speeches give him the freedom to spread the word and his stories.

One of Champ’s most prestigious accolades to date will be presented to him in the coming month. Champ will soon be given the award of MVP (Most Valuable Person) at the 2016 Game Changer Reception in San Francisco, California on November 5 for his significant contributions to the Best Buddies community.

Whether you see Champ at a major event, at his one of his jobs, or just around Palo Alto you will never see him let his disability slow him down from living life to the fullest.

He embraces his disability and uses his story to help raise awareness about Down Syndrome and similar genetic disorders.

Champ has become an inspiration nationwide for his work with the Best Buddies organization and as a motivational speaker, Champ prides himself on who he is, and flaunts his true self. He doesn’t hide behind a curtain, he just owns up to himself.

“I do things my own way and make my own decisions.”

One thing’s for sure, there is not a day he won’t be living like a champ.